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The Los Angeles Plaza

Sacred and Contested Space

By William David Estrada

Publication Year: 2008

City plazas worldwide are centers of cultural expression and artistic display. They are settings for everyday urban life where daily interactions, economic exchanges, and informal conversations occur, thereby creating a socially meaningful place at the core of a city. At the heart of historic Los Angeles, the Plaza represents a quintessential public space where real and imagined narratives overlap and provide as many questions as answers about the development of the city and what it means to be an Angeleno. The author, a social and cultural historian who specializes in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Los Angeles, is well suited to explore the complex history and modern-day relevance of the Los Angeles Plaza. From its indigenous and colonial origins to the present day, Estrada explores the subject from an interdisciplinary and multiethnic perspective, delving into the pages of local newspapers, diaries and letters, and the personal memories of former and present Plaza residents, in order to examine the spatial and social dimensions of the Plaza over an extended period of time. The author contributes to the growing historiography of Los Angeles by providing a groundbreaking analysis of the original core of the city that covers a long span of time, space, and social relations. He examines the impact of change on the lives of ordinary people in a specific place, and how this change reflects the larger story of the city.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Photo, Copyright, Dedication, Epigram

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pp. i-vi


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

The book you are holding is about Los Angeles’ historic heart, the Plaza, the Placita, a space of contested memories, forgotten histories and their reclamation. The Los Angeles Plaza is personal and evocative for those who grew up in the city. The book triggered my own memories of growing up in L.A. By the early 1950s, my Los Angeles–born father was taking me (and my pet of...

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pp. xiii-xv

This is but a partial list of all the people and institutions whose knowing and unknowing contributions helped me to reach this long-sought goal, a project that my two children in their youthful wit once reminded me began in the last century. With apologies to those unnamed, I wish to thank the following. For institutional support, I am grateful to the John Randolph Haynes...

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pp. 1-14

For generations of Angelenos, the old Plaza in downtown is a place of enduring personal and historical memory. I am a native Angeleno with family roots that run deep in the city, especially in the old downtown core around the Plaza. My great-grandfather Miguel Salazar, nephew of the legendary General Jos

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1. Cultural and Historical Origins

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pp. 15-41

Any discussion of the actual founding of Los Angeles must address the cultural and environmental history of the area before 1781, because the design and meaning of the eighteenth-century Plaza was not based exclusively upon a complex set of colonial laws and designs. The site of the pueblo was the result of careful observation of the indigenous people who successfully...

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2. The Rise and Decline of the Mexican Plaza

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pp. 43-79

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, California-born Mexicans assumed control of the direction and affairs of Los Angeles and the Southern California region, which prior to independence was controlled by the colonial governor. Historian Herbert Howe Bancroft noted that the reaction to Mexican independence was widespread throughout...

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3. From Ciudad to City

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pp. 81-107

The 1870s signaled the beginning of several cultural, technological, demographic, and economic transformations that further defined Los Angeles as an emerging American city, and they were most reflected by the changes at the Plaza. Railroads were central to the growth of this new economy based on agriculture, oil production, real estate, and tourism. Blake...

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4. Homelands Remembered

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pp. 109-132

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Anglo majority who now called Los Angeles their home were a sharp contrast to the Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, and European immigrants with whom they lived. Many of these new Anglo residents came from small Midwestern towns and farms, and despite the strands of populism among their ranks, many brought...

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5. Revolution and Public Space

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pp. 133-167

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Plaza was once again transformed. In 1898 Henry E. Huntington purchased the Los Angeles Railway Company (LARY). Two years later, he formed the Pacific Electric Railway Company, the electric streetcar system that replaced cable cars in 1885.1 Together these companies provided Los Angeles with mass transportation...

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6. Reforming Culture and Community

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pp. 169-201

When silent film legend Charlie Chaplin first arrived in Los Angeles in 1913, he was immediately captivated by the buildings and streets surrounding the Plaza and Old Chinatown because they were reminiscent of his impoverished tenement boyhood spent in Lambeth, London, so much so that some of his most memorable films...

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7. Parades, Murals, and Bulldozers

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pp. 203-229

In 1952 director Kurt Neumann offered an uncompromising glimpse of the institutionalized bigotry that Mexican Americans faced in post–World War II Los Angeles in The Ring, starring Lalo Rios and Rita Moreno.1 The film evolves around the Cantaños family, who live in the crumbling Alpine district in downtown. The main character, Tomas Cantaños (Rios), is young,...

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8. Politics and Preservation

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pp. 231-258

When the Great Depression waned and prosperity returned, Christine Sterling was still exerting administrative control over daily affairs on Olvera Street. She exercised the power to evict any merchant who did not yield to her authority, and when necessary, she fashioned potent images of Mexican romance and impending doom to gain the attention of elected officials and...

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9. The Persistence of Memory

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pp. 259-270

Today, the Plaza continues to grow in cultural significance, especially for Latinos, who have become the city’s majority population. The site is also going through an interpretive revival among other ethnic groups that are rightfully reclaiming visible representation in El Pueblo’s expanding historical narrative.1 Administratively, the problems of managing El Pueblo...


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pp. 271-310


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pp. 311-327


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p. 328


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pp. 329-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794627
E-ISBN-10: 0292794622
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292717541
Print-ISBN-10: 0292717547

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 53 halftones, 7 maps, 1 chart
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 234185252
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Los Angeles Plaza

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Public spaces -- California -- Los Angeles -- History.
  • Sacred space -- California -- Los Angeles -- History.
  • Memory -- Social aspects -- California -- Los Angeles -- History.
  • Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
  • Los Angeles (Calif.) -- History.
  • Los Angeles Plaza (Los Angeles, Calif.) -- History.
  • Community life -- California -- Los Angeles -- History.
  • Human ecology -- California -- Los Angeles -- History.
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